Morning sickness

With their anarchic brand of toilet humour, it is no wonder children love Dick and Dom's Saturday show - or that politicians are up in arms about it. Julia Stuart meets the duo who Auntie's hoping will beat Ant and Dec in the prime-time game

Dick and Dom are smirking in front of me like a couple of boys who've just let off a stink bomb. The current bout of snickering has arisen from a question I've asked them about an item known to their half- million fans as "Bogeys", one of the hottest scenes on the iconoclastic children's Saturday morning show, Dick & Dom In da Bungalow, which they front.

A simple game, by any standards, Bogeys requires the couple to turn up in public places and say the word "bogeys" at each other, at ever-increasing volume, until such point as they collapse with the sheer hilarity of the enterprise, or are forcibly removed from the building.

Judging by their faces, it's clear that Richard McCourt, 28, and Dominic Wood, 27, find the item nothing short of genius. I'm beginning to feel like a headmistress who's summoned the pair to my office to justify their silly behaviour. The atmosphere isn't exactly helped by the fact that an extremely officious BBC press officer has decreed it necessary to sit in on our conversation, listening to our every word like an overprotective parent.

I'm not the first person who has suggested that encouraging young children to shout "bogeys" at each other across crowded spaces might not be the most judicious application of the BBC's charter. Peter Luff, the Conservative assistant chief whip and MP for Mid Worcestershire, has been so horrified by Bogeys and other items on In da Bungalow that he recently condemned it in the House of Commons, demanding that the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, justify the corporation's service remit and inviting her into his office to view the programme's website.

"You can join me in playing How Low Can You Bungalow, a test to see your response to grossly embarrassing personal situations, largely of a lavatorial nature," Luff raged. "Pants Dancers in the Hall of Fame, photos of children with underwear on their heads; Make Dick Sick, a game which I think speaks for itself; and finally Bunged Up, in which you play a character in a sewerage system avoiding turtles' poos coming from various lavatories. Is that really the stuff of public service broadcasting?"

Luff's voice has been only one of the more prominent expressing concern. Since the media watchdog Ofcom was set up in December 2003, In da Bungalow has received 28 complaints, most of them about condoning bad behaviour.

But does the criticism bother Dick and Dom? Does it heck. Neither does it bother the growing army of young fans who are now faithfully switching on the BBC on a Saturday morning. In fact, the controversy is probably welcomed by BBC executives, who will reportedly be backing the duo to challenge the extraordinary hold of the ubiquitous Ant and Dec over the young adult audience when Dick and Dom make their move into a teatime slot as hosts of its Ask the Family show on BBC2 in the spring.

This may not be such a ridiculous suggestion. Young, irrepressible and infinitely cheeky, the careers of the two duos bear some uncanny similarities. Like ITV's golden boys, Ant and Dec, Dick and Dom met when they were teenagers working in children's television. Dick, who comes from Sheffield, was doing the links between children's programmes on the BBC. Dom, from Exeter, turned up to promote an ill-fated show called The Friday Zone, which he describes as an attempt at bringing back Crackerjack that "didn't really work". The pair also shared a flat for five years and, like Ant and Dec, are frequently mistaken for being a couple. (For the record, Dom is engaged, while Dick has just been chucked by his girlfriend.)

So, are they trying to oust Ant and Dec as the most popular duo on television? Of course not, they bluster. They have no ambitions to follow in the footsteps of Ant and Dec. "Everyone compares us to Ant and Dec, and we've always admired them," Dick says. "But what we do is very, very different. We don't see ourselves in suits on a Saturday night, like them."

"That's not what we're about," Dom says. "We want to go a bit more left field, a bit more Young Ones." It hardly seems worth pointing out that Ask the Family is far removed from the ethos of that anarchic comedy series starring Ade Edmondson and Rik Mayall, but watching In da Bungalow, you can see how the Eighties comedy has informed much of their style and shares the same puerile sense of humour.

It's a style Dick and Dom aren't ready to apologise for. "In da Bungalow doesn't educate children at all," Dom says, with apparent glee. "They get educated during the week with programmes like Blue Peter and Newsround. The good thing about our show is that it is complete escapism."

Dick is equally unrepentant. "The show is the highlight of our careers so far. I don't think we will ever beat it. It's the best rush ever. Hopefully, this show will be talked about for a few years to come. Hopefully, they will remember it in a good way."

Children's television is no stranger to criticism. The accusations levelled against Dick and Dom echo those once made against the custard pie-smothered Tiswas 30 years ago, a show that also delighted droves of children and which the duo cite as a major influence. In 1997, Teletubbies was accused of debasing young minds. This week, SpongeBob SquarePants, Nickelodeon's new feature-length animation, arrives on these shores pursued by a chorus of disapproval from the American right, who say the character promotes homosexuality.

When I ask Dick and Dom how much responsibility they feel they should shoulder for the show, they become uncharacteristically touchy. They don't devise the show, they say. If anyone wants to point the finger, they say, it should be directed at the production team who come up with the ideas for the games. Bogeys, for example, was the brainchild of Steve Ryde, the producer, who used to play it as a schoolboy using the word "rollocks".

It's a convenient excuse, but they can't deny that, as the hosts of a live, unscripted show, they have broad control over the format. "Obviously we've got to span to different audiences, because it's on on a Saturday morning and there are going to be adults, teenagers and students watching," Dom says. "So you have to have a bit of something for everybody there, otherwise it becomes like CBeebies, which is totally safe - and nobody else is going to want to watch that. You've got to have tiny little things that, for someone who's 12 years old and upwards, are quite tee-hee funny."

Things like Dirty Norris, presumably, one of the ingredients they add to the concoction ingested in the Make Dick Sick game. "You don't want to know how that got its name," Dick says. "Of course she does," Dom counters.

"Remember Norris McWhirter from Record Breakers?" asks Dick. Yes. "Our producer's slang for going to the loo for a No 2 was a Norris McWhirter - squirter. His friends just used to call it a Norris, but we added the dirty to it."

"It used to be Marmite on CBBC, when health and safety regulations weren't in place as firmly as they are now," Dom says. "So we used to pour a bucket of Marmite on a kid's head, and it used to crawl over their head like an animal."

"And they couldn't get it out of their hair properly," continues Dick. "It was like a big chocolate poo hat," Dom says. "So we had to change it, and now it's chocolate sauce."

It's easy to see why Dick and Dom are so popular. Their ability to slip inside the minds of the children they entertain is extraordinary, and they delight in every gory detail of the lavatorial humour. But their reluctance to address the criticism is compounded when their PR mentions, in a later phone call, that "the boys should not be expected to talk about the wider issues of children's entertainment" and that if I want to ask about the future of children's television at the BBC, I will need to speak to one of the heads of entertainment.

I get the impression that, unlike Ant and Dec, who exercise huge control over their output, Dick and Dom are still very much at the mercy of their bosses, malleable tools being egged on by the bigger boys to get themselves into trouble and win back viewers for the Beeb.

And good luck to them. They'll soon be too old to be farting on television, and their last bucket of gunge will be thrown in March 2006. In the meantime, they cannot move without someone shouting "bogeys" at them. Do they mind?

"No, it's great fun," Dom says. Dick gives him a look of incredulity. "Someone on your day off shouting `bogeys' at you? I flipping do. When people see us out in the street they expect us to be exactly like we are on the show. Our normal personalities are a little bit more boring and grumpy than that. But at least it's not `rollocks'," he says.

I think it's time to go.

DICK & DOM

Age Dick, 28; Dom, 27

Born Dick, Sheffield;

Dom, Exeter

Hair Choppy, cheeky, brown

Height Dick, 5ft 10in; Dom, 5ft 4in

Girlfriends Dom engaged

to Sandi; Dick single

Hours 9-12am Saturday, Sunday

Highlights In da Bungalow

Next step Teatime quiz show

Ask the Family

First job Dick, paper boy;

Dom, worked in a magic shop

Hobbies Dick, panto; Dom,

magic (he was British Magical

Champion in 1998)

ANT & DEC

Age Ant, 29; Dec, 29

Born Newcastle

Hair Cheeky, choppy, brown

Height Ant, 5ft 8in; Dec, 5ft 6in

Girlfriends Ant with girlfriend

Lisa; Dec and long-term

girlfriend Clare recently split

Hours Saturday nights, early

mornings in Australia

Highlights Pop Idol

Next step More I'm a Celebrity...

First job both acting in

Byker Grove

Hobbies Supporting Newcastle

United, drinking with Robbie

Williams, pub quizzes

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